Op-Ed: Times Have Changed – How Can We Bring Excitement Back to the Aviation Workforce?

By Oliver DeVito

The airline industry, once seen as an epicenter of excitement and glamor, now struggles to attract enough workers to meet labor demands. Almost every position, from pilots to baggage handlers, lacks new and ambitious workers, and the dwindling workforce puts a strain on both the crew and customer experience.

As an 18-year-old, I have had the unique opportunity to ask how a new generation of workers – my peers – really feels about the prospect of entering the air travel industry. For most of the people I’ve spoken to, it’s not on their radar.

Airports and airlines need to make a shift to attract new, young, and motivated workers; one that brings back the thrill of aviation, modernizes the work environment, and aligns with the goals and needs of a new generation.

A Glimpse at What Was

Earlier this year, I stood with my father in the lobby of a small inn located in rural New Hampshire. We made small talk with the clerk as she checked us into our room.

“What brings you out here,” my dad asked her.


“How long have you worked here?”

“Three years. I used to be a flight attendant,” she said proudly. “But then COVID happened and…” She trailed off.

“What airline did you work for?” I asked.

“I started at Pan Am a long time ago,” she said, with a twinkle in her eyes.

I was born in 2006, long after the era when Pan Am and TWA ruled the skies, and air travel was seen as more of a special experience than another basic mode of transportation. But even younger travelers like myself who missed the golden age of flying can see how much things have changed through movies and television. It was Catch Me If You Can – a favorite movie of mine – that truly gave me a glimpse of the glamor of air travel long since passed.

Anecdotes from older friends, combined with insights from other movies and media, have allowed me to identify several factors that drew people to careers in the airline industry and created a sense of excitement, energy, and possibility. Here is what I’ve observed:

In the 1960s the industry was still nascent; there was a certain thrill that came with flying, as it was new and exclusive. The whole experience was carefully curated to ensure luxury and comfort. Customers often dressed in their best attire and enjoyed fine dining high above the clouds. Meanwhile, pilots and flight attendants embodied elegance and class. 

Airports – a sort of extension of the vessels they housed – became hubs of activity that drew people in. They were built to radiate style and thus became desirable work environments. It gave people the opportunity to break free from the mundane repetition of the traditional desk job. Many people were attracted to airport jobs and there was no shortage of people flocking to fill them. The industry was growing rapidly and the excitement was palpable.

In the decades to come, the industry matured, and as commoditization became the focus of air travel, many of its alluring characteristics began to fade.

One such factor is deregulation, particularly in the late 1970’s. This removed entry barriers and gave significantly more freedom to the airlines. As a result, competition rose dramatically. With more competition, airlines and airports implemented more and more cost-cutting strategies to reduce prices. Naturally, luxury and extravagance were the first to go for many companies. Those that didn’t cut enough costs, such as Pan Am, were pushed out of business. 

Consolidation is another contributing element to the increased commoditization of flight. As airline companies merged into efficient powerhouses, much of the differentiation was lost. Over time, the air travel experience became increasingly standardized, leaving behind much of the excitement in the process. 

As airlines reduced costs, airports were forced to mirror these changes in order to provide for a broader market of customers. Airports shifted to an increased focus on efficiency, causing layout designs to stray from beauty and style and began to prioritize practicality.

With more people, more stress, and stagnant wages, airports became less desirable work environments for both above and below-wing workers who are responsible for running operations. To make matters worse, hours and schedules were (and continue to be) irregular and grueling, and with antiquated systems and technology in place, there is little reprieve from the chaos. 

A Need For Change

Much of the allure of careers in the air travel industry stemmed from the perception of stable pay and projected growth. Without this element, many are turned off to the idea of air travel careers. The aspects that appealed to older generations are no longer applicable.

So the question remains: what can the aviation industry do to attract new, young workers?

One answer is to align policies, practices, and missions with the goals and desires of new generations. Luckily, many of these aspirations are clearly defined, and there are already existing solutions that address them; it just comes down to implementation.

Growing up in an era of rapid technological advancement and access to various devices, my generation has been molded by the technology that surrounds us. Many young people have great interest and enthusiasm surrounding innovative technology. In order to attract these potential workers, the aviation industry should emphasize the increasing role of new, streamlined technologies in the field. Just as stability, extravagance, and respect drew older generations to careers in air travel, exciting technology can appeal to newer generations.

As demonstrated by social media and its rise over the past few years, technology has the power to connect people on an enormous scale. Moreover, connectedness and inclusion are objectives my generation strives towards. This can be achieved by implementing software that connects groups of people working in various airport positions.

The technological link between workers does far more than merely entice young people, it inspires and motivates them. For one, the ability to see one’s measurable impacts and how they fit into a larger team effort allows a person to feel as though they are making a difference. This is crucial to finding fulfillment in work. Additionally, connectedness boosts efficiency; people who feel fulfilled are more likely to do their work with care and effort, and widespread communication lowers delay times and speeds up the time it takes to address problems.

Technology also has the power to mitigate the harmful effects of climate change, a consideration of the utmost importance for my generation. As heirs to the Earth, we care deeply about preserving and protecting our shifting world, and we want to support sustainable companies. Technology can be utilized in many ways to fulfill this intention: collecting data on the impacts of specific activities, alternative energy fuel sourcing, streamlining inefficient procedures and more. 

The aviation industry stands at a critical crossroads where it must choose to shift to meet the goals of younger generations or face massive labor shortages. By utilizing technology to excite and to promote connectedness and sustainability, the industry can revitalize itself and draw in workers it urgently needs. Young people are ready to embrace meaningful careers that involve actively working to create a brighter future, and with a few changes, the air travel industry may very well be a perfect avenue.

es_ESEspañol ja日本語 en_USEnglish